Thursday, December 10, 2020

Looking to See Who’s Been Naughty and Who’s Been Nice?

This is the time of year when we’ll be hearing, probably dozens of times, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” I’ve always worried about its ominous admonition: “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why – Santa Claus is coming to town. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”

As children, at one time or another we probably all sat on Santa’s lap and heard him ask, “Have you been a good boy (or girl) this year?” Funny: If we really believed the message of this familiar Christmas song, we should have responded, “Who are you trying to kid? You already know that, Santa!”


Entering adulthood, the grim specter of Santa spying on our activities and evaluating our respective niceness and naughtiness ceases to be a threat. But we still seem to cling to the naughty or nice notion, that we’re good people just as long as the things we do right somehow outnumber or outweigh the stuff we do wrong. 


That was my belief for my first 30 years. If you had asked me back then, I would have told you with great confidence that all things considered, I was a pretty good guy, convinced I was spending more time being nice than not. Then I encountered some unsettling Bible passages. They informed me that God and Santa don’t see eye to eye. No matter how much we do, no matter how nice we try to be, that’s not good enough in the Lord’s sight.


For instance, Romans 3:23 declares, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Kind of like trying to leap the Empire State Building. No matter how hard you try, even with lots of practice, you’ll never come close. Another verse in the same chapter uses even stronger words: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).


Whoa! That’s a revelation! But it’s not just a New Testament idea. In the Old Testament we’re told, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Compared to God’s holy, all-righteous requirements, Santa’s nice/naughty guidelines are a piece of cake – or milk and cookies, if you prefer.


However, the gospel literally means “good news.” So if it’s true that absolutely no one is righteous – good enough – in God’s sight, where’s the good news? I’m glad you asked.


In a season when gift giving is on our minds, Romans 6:23 offers fitting assurance: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The gospel of John confirms this declaration: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).


That’s encouraging. However, if even our very best efforts aren’t good enough, why is God willing to offer this gift to each of us? It goes back to the reason we celebrate Christmas. The familiar verse, John 3:16, tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” 


This speaks of a limitless, unconditional love we can scarcely comprehend. But the Scriptures are clear: If it weren’t for the sacrificial, atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross – and His resurrection – there would be no reason to celebrate His birth.


Romans 5:8 expands on this: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And yet another passage underscores the gift aspect: “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).


There’s no escaping this truth. Titus 3:4-6 also affirms we can have a genuine, eternal relationship with God only through His gracious gift. ”But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.”


This goes far beyond the story about a young couple in an obscure village 2,000 years ago given the incredible responsibility of serving as earthly parents for the Son of God. Trusting in the whole counsel of God’s Word, we discover why we care about Christmas at all. 


While youngsters around the world fret about whether Santa Claus will find them nice or naughty, that’s not God’s concern. Humanly speaking, we can never be good enough. But according to the Bible, to use today’s language, “not to worry!” 


He’s already done everything necessary to make us right with Him – if only we’re willing to receive His free gift of forgiveness and eternal life. We’ll never receive a greater gift than that!

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